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Homeless veterans remembered at Memorial Park

By: MATT STEINER
May 14, 2011
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photo - Bunny Blaha lays down a carnation for one of the 19 homeless veterans who had died in Colorado Springs. A memorial service honoring them was held Saturday at the Veterans Memorial in Memorial Park.  Photo by CHRISTIAN MURDOCK, THE GAZETTE
Bunny Blaha lays down a carnation for one of the 19 homeless veterans who had died in Colorado Springs. A memorial service honoring them was held Saturday at the Veterans Memorial in Memorial Park. Photo by CHRISTIAN MURDOCK, THE GAZETTE 

Nineteen red carnations rested on a bench, soaked with rain Saturday evening in Memorial Park.

The flowers, which were placed in front of the Veterans Memorial just after 5 p.m, seemed almost cliche, but they were a fitting gesture for the 19 homeless veterans who have died in Colorado Springs since 2003.

“I suspect several of these guys hadn’t had any kind of service,” said Bunny Blaha, who laid the carnations on the bench as each name was read. “Now they’ve had a military service.

t’s important that they don’t just fade way. They need to be remembered.”

Blaha, a volunteer for programs that serve the homeless community, organized the event after Kevin Shoemaker died Feb. 4. Shoemaker was one of the people to whom Blaha delivered food in her duties for Department of Housing and Urban Development/Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing (HUD/VASH), The Crawford House and Shelter Plus Care where she donates her time.

Blaha said she hopes the memorial service becomes an annual event.

The rain held off just long enough for chaplains R.C. Lewis and Chet Dean to pay tribute to the U.S. veterans — nine from the Army, five from the Navy, four from the Marines and one who served in both the Air Force and the Army. Dean read a passage from The Bible, then said a prayer; Lewis read the veterans’ names.

The High Frontier Honor Guard from Peterson Air Force Base fired a rifle salute and a bugler from Fort Carson’s 4th Infantry Divsion Band played Taps as the rain began to fall.

Five flag bearers from the Colorado Patriot Guard Riders circled the memorial as a handful of people paid tribute. The Patriot Guard Riders are a group that honors fallen veterans, troops deploying and those returning from deployment, according to Tim Leppek, a flag bearer who has been with the Riders for four months.

“It’s a nice gesture to pay respect to them. They were people,” said retired Army veteran Terry Fowler, who was at the service. “I knew most of these guys, probably all of them.”

Fowler has volunteered for the Veterans’ Administration since 1992. He told a story about one of the vets who would come to get free clothes, “start crying and then take off.”

“They didn’t ask for much,” Fowler said.

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Call the writer at 636-0362.

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